Carmen Buchanan is the Instructional Coach for Liberty Middle School in the Madison City Schools and a participant in Alabama's pilot professional learning program for school-based instructional partners.
by Carmen Buchanan
As a part of our partnership work with the Alabama Best Practices Center, Liberty Middle School has participated in Instructional Rounds, a method developed by Harvard researchers that can help teachers and school leaders become more effective observers of the learning process.
Our Powerful Conversations team, which includes assistant principal Chastity Wrights, two teachers (Nancy Hartfield and Madelene Marcus) and me, quickly realized the power of the IR process. For the first time this year, our entire school participated in our own internal Instructional Rounds process within our building. Our teachers teamed up and went through the experience of observing and describing what they observed in classrooms, using the IR protocols. In one day, all of our teachers got to be observers of other teachers’ classrooms and also have their own class observed.
We came up with this idea during a Strategic Teaching meeting. The Strategic Teaching team (Tilary Curry, Amy Lyons, Ambra Johnson, Jamie Golliver and me) thought this would be a great way to tie the professional learning from Powerful Conversations with Strategic Teaching, an instructional approach recommended by the Alabama Reading Initiative that has been our professional development focus this year.
We asked teachers to look for evidence of Strategic Teaching as it relates to our school's Instructional Core. Notes were taken on the instructional task underway during the visit, what the students were doing and saying, and what the teachers were doing and saying. At an end-of-day gathering, teachers debriefed the evidence from our learning of the day and reflected on what we found. Our faculty gleaned so much from this experience, both about our Instructional Core and about teaching strategies they could take back and use in their own classroom.
Journeying toward a common vision
Our first in-house experience with Instructional Rounds is one important step on our journey to create a common vision of what instruction should like in our school.
Earlier in the school year, drawing on the professional learning I was experiencing as part of the ALSDE/ABPC Instructional Partners Pilot, our school went through the process of creating a One Page Instructional Target. This strategy, promoted by teaching quality consultant Jim Knight, emphasizes how important it is to say clearly, directly and with an economy of words just what your school intends to accomplish through instruction. When we saw how powerful the collaboration process that produced the One Page Target could be, we decided to create another one-page document that would tie all our professional development for the year together.
Our one page document, which aims to tie together all we are doing to improve instruction, was drafted by our Strategic Teaching Team and me. We looked at the Instructional Core (tasks, students, and teachers) and compiled a list of pieces of evidence that might be seen during an Instructional Round if strategic teaching was taking place in a particular classroom.
We broke the evidence into three parts, to match the before, during and after portions of the lesson and shared the result with our principal, Dr. Brian Clayton, who recommended changes and additions. (Dr. Clayton has been instrumental in our professional development this year. As a principal, he models best practices, leads professional development, and assists teachers with improving instruction. His leadership has made the difference.)
During our last professional development time for this school year, the entire faculty reflected on our rough draft and then collaborated in small groups to help refine it. At that point, I compiled everyone’s thoughts to create our descriptive document tying together Strategic Teaching and the Instructional Core. We do not consider this document to be etched in stone, and we'll certainly continue to add to it as we learn. But it did bring a sharper focus to our efforts as we carried through with our first-ever internal Instructional Rounds.
Shared ownership of the change process
Providing this time for teachers to reflect and categorize their thoughts was an effective way to wrap up a wonderful year of professional learning at Liberty Middle. The Instructional Rounds process helped us pull it all together and make the pieces all fit. What's more, empowering everyone in the building has proven to be a highly productive way to stay on the same page with school improvement.
In my work as a coach and instructional partner, I have confirmed that “top down” directed learning does not work with adult professionals. Teachers need a voice. I am so proud to say that we have encouraged our teachers to share their ideas and express their leadership voices this year.
If you'd like to see the one-page document we developed together to guide us during our Instructional Rounds, you can download it here. We hope it might be a curiosity builder and idea-starter for your own school.